Submitted by: Kristina Bohnstedt & Norbert Müller
Ethical issues are coming to the fore in our society as a result of numerous problematic developments.
In addition to doping and profit orientation, child and teenage high-performance sport is a recurrent focus of discussions about ethical responsibility. The person’s responsible, particularly leading members of sports associations and sport scientists, must make their position clear and help parents to shed their fears.
In this connection, a specific ethic for trainers is increasingly being demanded. The German Sport Association responded to this demand in 1997 by publishing the “Code of Conduct for Trainers”.
As early as 1984, the sport educationalist MEINBERG (Cologne) formulated ethical principles for child and teenage high-performance sport, which have lost nothing of their importance. In fact, they are more important than ever in 2004, as a result of professionalization and media attention.
According to MEINBERG, an optimum approach to training children and teenagers in high-performance sport depends on the following ethical principles:
- using another person as an end in themselves rather than a means to an end,
- the principle of respect,
- the principle of equality,
- the principle of solidarity,
- the principle of fairness,
- the principle of suitability for children/teenagers,
- the principle of reasonableness,
- the principle of helping,
- the principle of trust,
- the principle of participation,
- the principle of responsibility,
- the principle of achievement – making no fetish of achievement,
- a body ethic suitable for children/teenagers – not exploiting the body.
Aim of survey and methods
The paper investigates whether child and teenage high-performance athletes think that their trainers observe MEINBERG’s 13 ethical principles for a humane high-performance sport. The young high-performance athletes were asked to evaluate the implementation of ethical standards during daily training situations.
Research data were collected through a survey using a standardized questionnaire, which was filled in under supervision. The interviewees, aged between 14 and 19, attend sport-orientated schools in the German cities of Berlin, Erfurt, Kaiserslautern and Koblenz, and the House of Athletes at the Olympic Centre in Frankfurt/Main.
Results and interpretation
The sample survey
Altogether 181 young high-performance athletes participated in the survey, 80 of them female (44.2%) and 101 male (55.8%). 15.5% of the athletes belong to sports with a young high-performance age (e.g. gymnastics, figure skating, swimming), 30.9% to team sports (volleyball, handball, basketball, football) and 53.6% to various other sports (athletics, cycling, table tennis, rowing etc.).
Training in their main sport starts at the average age of 8.7, and 11.2 years is the average age for the start of high-performance training (daily training, regular competitions and training camps). The young athletes train at different training centers. Approximately 40% train at two centers. About half of the athletes are members of training groups at their sports club, at the Olympic training center and at their sport-orientated school. Thus, 52% of the athletes work with at least two different trainers, and 20.7% even with three. 27.6% of the athletes live in a full-time-boarding school, 11% attend a part-time-boarding school, and 61.3% live with their families. Irrespective of their living arrangements, 90.1% of the young athletes say that they have become more independent through high-performance training.
Before the survey, 65.0% of the athletes had already discussed practice-oriented ethical questions at school.
Given the age of the interviewees, it can be assumed that under normal circumstances they possess a sufficient capacity for ethical judgement. This would not be the case with children, but teenagers can be considered mature enough. Their involvement with high-performance sport may in the course of time affect their evaluation of trainer behavior and of their own situation.
The teenagers’ answers show, however, that they are able to critically judge both their own situation and the behavior of their trainers. The fact that the majority of interviewees pursue sports with a late high-performance age positively affects the starting age for high-performance training.
Olympic values in youth high-performance sport
The analysis focusses on the attitudes of young high-performance athletes. The questionnaire was intended to show whether the teenagers’ values, including their evaluation of trainer behavior, had already been influenced by their involvement with high-performance sport and the concomitant concentration on achievement. In addition, the teenagers’ general value systems were to be compared with the values conveyed by their trainers, and the values perceived in competitions.
The majority of interviewees above all want their main sport to teach them achievement-oriented values. At the top of the hierarchy of desirable values are
– ambition (93.4%),
– competitiveness (90.1%) and
– assertiveness (75.7%).
While fairness (68.5%),
– independence (65.7%),
– friendship (64.6%),
– health (47%) and
– willingness to take risks (44.2%) still play a fairly important role for the young athletes, they consider values like
– happiness (35.9%),
– honesty (27.6%),
– justice (27.1%) and
– equal opportunities (22.7%) to be less important.
It can be seen from the athletes’ answers that trainers tend to teach the achievement-oriented values much more frequently than the others.
An examination of correlations shows that – except for the values of ambition and justice – there is a statistically significant correlation between the athletes’ desire to learn these values through their main sport, and the frequency with which these values are taught by the trainer.
The assessment of values in competitions reveals an even stronger emphasis on achievement-oriented values. Thus, 98.8% of the athletes hold competitiveness and 95% hold ambition to be very important in competitions, while values such as justice and friendship play a secondary role
Since the young high-performance athletes prioritize achievement-oriented values, which they expect their main sport to teach them, and which they consider even more important in competitions, we must conclude that trainer behavior may likewise be assessed on the basis of the principle of achievement. This tendency seems to be further strengthened by the fact that the athletes consider those values to be particularly important which are taught most often by their trainers. Accordingly, in their moral assessment of trainer behavior, the athletes may be following the ethical standards of their trainers. The close connection between the values of trainers and athletes casts some doubt on the young high-performance athletes’ ability to judge their trainers’ behavior objectively and critically. However, it is not clear whether the values held by the athletes are shaped by the trainers or by parents or other factors such as personality. The data suggest that the interviewees judge the behavior of their trainers as well as their own situation from an achievement-oriented perspective.
The implementation of MEINBERG’s ethical principles using the example of trainer behavior
Questions concerning trainer behavior were intended to show whether, in dealing with the young athletes, the main trainer (i.e. the trainer with whom the athlete works most of the time) follows MEINBERG’s 13 ethical principles in order to ensure a humane high-performance sport. At the same time, the analysis examined possible connections between the implementation of these principles and factors such as the athletes’ gender, their particular school, their age or their main sport.
The most important results of the survey are shown in the following table:
|Using another person as an end in themselves rather than a means to an end||My TRAINER wants me to win so that I can enjoy success.||61.3 %|
|My TRAINER accepts that my body cannot always achieve perfect results.||53.0 %|
|The principle of respect||My TRAINER is very often ready to listen to my wishes and fears.||52.5 %|
|My TRAINER always respects my opinion.||48.1 %|
|My TRAINER is sometimes ready to listen to my wishes and fears.||42.5 %|
|The principle of equality||My TRAINER sometimes asks me what I think.||54.7 %|
|My TRAINER listens to my criticism and responds to it.||53.3 %|
|My TRAINER very often asks me what I think.||30.9 %|
|The principle of solidarity||My TRAINER only reproaches me when there is a good reason.||82.3 %|
|My TRAINER never reproaches me when I am not successful.||9.4 %|
|My TRAINER always reproaches me when I am not successful.||8.3 %|
|My TRAINER critically examines both his/her own work and mine when I am not successful.||79.0 %|
|My TRAINER lays the entire blame on me when I am not successful.||14.9 %|
|My TRAINER also blames himself/herself when I am not successful.||6.1 %|
|The principle of fairness||My TRAINER is equally happy for all when they do well.||81.8 %|
|My TRAINER supports us all equally.||68.0 %|
|The principle of suitability for children/teenagers||My TRAINER knows how old I am and treats me accordingly.||84.0 %|
|My TRAINER involves me in more decisions as I grow older.||54.1 %|
|The principle of reasonableness||I never feel afraid during training.||76.8 %|
|I sometimes feel overtaxed during training.||68.0 %|
|The principle of helping||My TRAINER immediately tries to help me when I say I have a problem.||82.2 %|
|My TRAINER always listens to me when I have a problem.||66.7 %|
|The principle of trust||I very often trust my TRAINER.||70.7 %|
|My TRAINER makes all decisions together with me.||65.7 %|
|I sometimes discuss personal problems with my TRAINER.||50.8 %|
|I sometimes have a say in which competitions I enter.||40.3 %|
|The principle of responsibility||My TRAINER sometimes talks with my parents.||60.8 %|
|I take part in both team and individual competitions.||59.6 %|
|My TRAINER sometimes organizes activities outside training for us.||58.6 %|
|My TRAINER reduces the training load when there are many exams and I have problems at school.||54.1 %|
|My TRAINER sometimes helps me to make plans for school and for my career.||47.0 %|
|My TRAINER never helps me to make plans for school and for my career.||44.2 %|
|My TRAINER sometimes talks to my teachers in order to coordinate the demands of school and training.||41.7 %|
|My TRAINER never talks to my teachers in order to coordinate the demands of school and training.||38.3 %|
|My TRAINER never reduces the training load.||29.8 %|
|The principle of achievement – making no fetish of achievement||My main TRAINER is happy in competitions when I do well.||94.5 %|
|Our training is achievement-oriented and fun-oriented.||59.7 %|
|Our training is purely achievement-oriented.||40.3 %|
|A body ethic suitable for children/teenagers – not exploiting the body||When I am physically exhausted in training, I still have to carry on until the end of the training session.||44.2 %|
|When I am physically exhausted in training, I am allowed a short break during training.||43.6 %|
In general, while the majority of trainers are largely guided by MEINBERG’s ethical principles in their work with the young high-performance athletes, a critical examination of individual principles also reveals some transgressions. The athletes noted incidences of behavior on the part of trainers which fall short of their ethical expectations and have to be considered problematic or irresponsible.
Correlations between the kind of sport and the degree of conformity with individual principles are rare. Sport-specific differences only occur with the implementation of the principle of equality, the principle of suitability for children/teenagers, the principle of participation and a body ethic suitable for children/teenagers.
As far as these principles are concerned, ethical boundaries are transgressed most frequently by trainers in team games. But a disregard of ethical principles by trainers working with young high-performance athletes can be found in all kinds of sport. This indicates that adherence to ethical principles depends on the individual personality of the trainer rather than on other factors.
More detailed results could be obtained by examining the implementation of these ethical principles in all kinds of youth high-performance sport on an even broader basis.
It has become clear that MEINBERG’s principles, while very theoretical and general, have a practical application and can be used for critically examining the behavior of trainers in different kinds of sport.
The teenagers’ assessment of their own situation and of individual problems shows that MEINBERG’s demands are realistic. The athletes most frequently criticize the disregard for individual principles on the part of trainers and coaching assistants.
The Olympic Movement must become more aware of its responsibility for the ethical and social conditions under which young athletes live and train. Surveys like the present one should therefore be conducted on a large international scale.
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